The Golfo dei Poeti, or the Gulf of Poets, is the literary nickname for the Gulf of La Spezia that lies on the Ligurian Riviera just south of the Cinque Terre. The area has long attracted artists and writers, many of them well-known such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence, George Sands, Henry Miller and Virginia Woolf. Surrounded by a surreal landscape of dramatic cliffs and rock formations that inspires mood according to the lighting, the Gulf of Poets is truly a bewitching cove accented by crystalline waters.
Percy and Mary Shelley came to the area in 1819 and stayed in a white-washed villa named Casa Magni, which was situated on the promenade at the tiny village of San Terenzo. It proved to be a place of inspiration for the both of them. The nearby Lerici Castle was supposedly the setting for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” novel, and it was here that Percy composed some of his most beautiful and famous lyrics and songs. Inscribed on the villa itself are his words, “A lovely house close by the soft and sublime scenes of the Bay of Lerici.” Another inscription reads, “I still inhabit this Divine Bay, reading dramas and sailing and listening to the most enchanting music.” They were often visited by Lord Byron, who resided across the bay in Portovenere. It is said that at least once he swam the 7.5 km across the bay to visit his good friends, the Shelley’s. This was a remarkable feat in itself as Lord Byron was known to have a club foot.
Tragically, in 1822, it was in this bay that Shelley lost his life in a drowning accident while sailing his boat, Ariel, from Livorno to San Terenzo. Although a good sailor, he and his two English companions encountered a storm that drove his boat to the bottom of the bay. Shelley’s body and those of his companions were found later washed up on shore. It is believed that his spirit still inhabits the inlets and promontories of the bay.
The villages of the Gulf of Poets include Lerici, Sarzana, Tellaro, San Terenzo, Montemarcello, Portovenere, and the city of La Spezia. There are three islands in the bay; Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The bay remains vitally active with water sports such as windsurfing, sailing and canoeing.
If you go:
The nearest airports are Pisa and Florence.
* Portovenere can be reached by ferry from La Spezia or Lerici. There is a bus from the train station in La Spezia.
* Lerici can be reached by ferry from La Spezia, Portovenere, and The Cinque Terre. Ferries run from the 1st of April. There’s a scenic drive from La Spezia, and there’s a large car park between San Terenzo and Lerici. A shuttle bus runs between the two, but it is a short walk to either village.
* The best time to visit is Spring or Autumn as the Gulf of Poets can get very crowded in high season.